Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boredom and the Spiritual Life

To the worldly, the Christian life is a boring life. The reason is because the Christian is perfectly content with any state in life, any job, any task—so long as these are not sinful—because all things and activities have been sanctified by Christ. Thus even monotony and grey take on the splendor of Christ's Resurrection. All things reflect God's will and infinitely wise and loving design—therefore, why should the Christian be discontent? Of course, knowledge of God's providence doesn't mean that the Christian is immune to pain and loss; no, God's providence often makes use of these means to fill the Christian with deeper love and patience and heroic virtue.

But the worldly see none of this. Monotony and death have no meaning. Life has no meaning besides what I make of it, and that is all relatively boring.

The idea of setting aside trifles and entertainments to take up the task of daily prayer and worship, of growth in virtue, of self denial and love of neighbor, of refusing to indulge in those little vices—angry thoughts, fleeting fantasies, revenge, idle talk and gossip, lustful glances, attachment to material things like clothing and cars, etc.—the idea itself is perhaps a bit intimidating. It all builds up.

The worldly can't stand this task. It should be a very good measure in us of where we are by how reluctant we are to follow Christ's dictum: 1) deny yourself; 2) take up your Cross; and 3) follow Him.

Boredom, therefore, is nothing but a sign of a need for deeper conversion. It isn't a reason to despair; far from it. Rather boredom recognized for what it is should make us rejoice because with that recognition means that God is providing the grace for us to see our faults and the path that we must take to grow towards union with Him.

Yes, the Christian life is entering into that repetitious, monotonous pattern of daily prayer and work, silence and, when necessary, tempered leisure. We do this over and over again, searching over our faults, praying for strength, speaking and walking with God, taking time to be recollected rather than dissipating our energies on frivolities and "guilty pleasures." It's all very simple, very quiet, very plain.

Perhaps here, Christians suffer from a twofold danger when reading the lives of the Saints: 1) the extraordinary graces that the Saints personally received, such as visions, locutions, levitation, etc.; 2) the extraordinary events of their lives—the dramatic turns, the miracles, the strong personalities, the conflicts and stakes of history. (A third possible danger is that we believe the Saints were born holy since most hagiography completely neglects the actual process of conversion in many of the Saints; hence we don't really get to see "how" the Saints actually became Saints! A potential consequence is that we believe our process of conversion will be just as mysteriously simple and quick; this assumption can lead to despair, self-deception, or impatience.) We believe that because the Saints were involved in these great circumstances that therefore we too shall be involved in them. We expect our lives to be enthralling and romantic.

Here is the paradoxical turn: we become involved in the great and romantic things only after we have completely surrendered any desire for them. And only once we have become holy do we realize that the great and romantic thing is loving God above everything else, and the vast majority of Saints never had miracles, experienced extraordinary phenomena, or were involved in huge historical situations. These Saints actually didn't care for the "greatness" of the situation but only to love God, no matter what situation God placed them in. Most lived quiet, humble lives that shall be known only in the glory of heaven. Most of these Saints are completely unknown to us, perhaps as inconspicuous as a grave we pass by at the cemetery.

The only great thing is to give everything to God in complete humility and simplicity. It is a quiet thing to external eyes, but to the internal soul, there is nothing more exciting. Thus there is an inverse relation: as a person becomes more worldly, holy things become duller, but as a person becomes holier, worldly things lose their appeal.

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